Howell hosting Phillipsburg in key statewide wrestling match

Staff Writer

 Howell Howell I f Howell High School wants to join the upper echelon of the state’s best wrestling programs, the Rebels will have the chance to make a case for themselves on Jan. 26.

That’s when the Rebels, ranked No. 14 in the state by the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association, will host undefeated and No. 5 Phillipsburg, a program long established as one of the finest in state history. The match will begin at 6 p.m.

“It is a huge match for the program,” said Howell head coach John Gagliano. “The tradition that [Phillipsburg] has with the number of consecutive titles and coming to Howell is great.

“We are also honoring our past Wall of Champions that night,” he added.

Last year at The Pit, Phillipsburg’s home gym, the Stateliners edged Howell, 27-26. Prior to that meeting, Howell held a 2-1 edge in matches contested between 2006-08.

Howell comes into the match as ready as ever with an 18-1 record that includes 17 straight wins. The Rebels all but wrapped up their eighth straight Shore Conference A North Division title on Jan. 18 and Jan. 19 with wins over Christian Brothers Academy (CBA), 42-18, and Freehold Township High School, 54-12, that left the Rebels as the lone undefeated team within the division with just one match remaining at home against Colts Neck High School (Jan. 23).

On the road against CBA, Steve Boncimino began a run of six straight victories with a pinfall win at 195 pounds that led to the Rebels’ triumph.

CBA, wrestling at home and considered the Rebels’ most dangerous challenger in the division, had taken a 9-7 lead on back-to-back wins (by decision and pin) and had some wind in their sails when Boncimino took the mat to face the Colts’ Martin Maloney.

Boncimino said he wasn’t thinking about CBA’s momentum at the time.

“I was focused on my match,” he said. “I just wanted to win.”

He did more than that. Using an armbar hold, he took just 38 seconds to take the momentum back from the Colts by registering a pinfall victory. From there on, it was all Howell. Kyle Cocozza won by forfeit at 220 pounds and Joe Sportiello followed with a pinfall in 2:49 at heavyweight that made it 25-9.

Anthony Gagliano (106 pounds) scored a major decision win (17-5) and Jimmy Slendorn

(113) won one of the night’s best matches, 10-8, in overtime over

CBA’s Dylan VanSickell. Anthony Piazza won by a decision (6-1) at 120 pounds for the sixth straight Howell win, which increased the lead to 35-9.

Ben Esposito (138 pounds) was involved in a tussle, needing overtime to gain a decision over Christian Casselli, 3-1, and remain undefeated.

Ashanti Maurice closed out the win with a major decision, as the Rebels handed CBA (7-1) its first loss of the season.

“We’re pretty solid this year,” Boncimino said. “A little more than last year.”

Against Freehold Township, Esposito, Mike Christie (170 pounds), Boncimino and Cocozza all registered pinfalls.

The Freehold Township meet was part of the Old Bridge Quad with Howell beating Greater Middlesex Conference squads Old Bridge High School (49-18) and Monroe Township High School (40-23) to boost their record to 18-1.